Monday, April 23, 2018

Legendary Ladies, by Ann Shen

In the past 10 years as a teen librarian, I've seen a lot of trends come and go. This years most popular book can become next year's joke...or, if nothing else, a guilty pleasure no one will admit to liking. I've seen it happen. But the one thing that always seems to be popular is Mythology. Greek, Egyptian, Norse, etc. If it's about gods and goddesses, it's sure to fly off the shelf. We can thank authors like Rick Riordan (of Percy Jackson fame) for that.

So when I encountered Ann Shen's book Legendary Ladies: 50 Goddesses to Empower and Inspire You, I predicted it would be super popular. For one thing, it's all about Mythology. And BONUS! it also fits the bill for the recent reawakening of the Girl Power movement that has filled so many books with strong, empowered heroines. When I read about it, I knew we had to have it for our collection!

I just didn't realize how cool this book was until I flipped through it today!

Each page features a different goddess and includes a color illustration and a brief write up about what she represented within her mythology. But Legendary Ladies doesn't just stick with the more well-known Greek and Norse myths. Also featured are goddesses from Native American, Polynesian, Hindu, and Ibo (to name just a few). So its pretty diverse. However, there are several similarities among the stories. For example, the tale of Creiddylad, Welsh goddess of Springtime, is very similar to that of the Greek Persephone.

Overall, Legendary Ladies was a very interesting read. I think the teens here will really enjoy it! I know I did. --AJB

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Altered History of Willow Sparks

Willow Sparks is at the bottom of her high school's social food chain. Each day she and her equally unpopular best friend, Georgia, run the gauntlet of mean girl bullies, deal with unsympathetic gym teachers, and nurse crushes on boys who don't know they exist. 

Then something miraculous happens: While working her after school job at the local library, Willow stumbles upon a secret basement storage room. And in this room she finds a blank book bearing her name as the title. Attached to the book is an old fountain-style pen with the inscription "For Emergencies Only". Willow smuggles the book home and soon discovers she can re-write the parts of her life she doesn't like, replacing those parts with how she wishes things were. She starts with small things, like getting rid of her acne and a new designer wardrobe she'd never be able to otherwise afford. But as her wishes get bigger and bolder, other things in her life begin to change as well...and not necessarily for the better. Suddenly Willow's BFF no longer wants anything to do with her and her mom doesn't trust her anymore. And then it gets worse.

Maybe the Book isn't such a miracle after all. But Willow finds that the more she re-writes her life the harder it is to stop. There's only one person who can help her, but will she find the courage to seek him out before it's too late?

Like Willow Sparks?
Try this read-alike!
The Altered History of Willow Sparks has been on my "To Read" list for several weeks, and I was not disappointed. Although I pretty much knew what was going to happen from page one (predictable), I nevertheless enjoyed this book. Author Tara O'Connor's minimal but well-placed dialogue moves the story along and the detailed artwork does the rest. Willow is a sympathetic and likable character. Although she doesn't make the best choices for much of the story, she learns from her mistakes. Eventually Willow learns that cool clothes and being liked by popular boys aren't what makes her happy. Rather, it's her true friends and, even more important, self-acceptance that is most important. Pair this one with Lisa Daily novel Beauty and the 80s-era comedy film Teen Witch, all three of which center around the same universal themes. 

--AJB

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Summer of Jordi Perez & the Best Burger in Los Angeles, by Amy Spalding

With winter seeming to drag on and on, I've been in desperate need of something light and summery and beachy. And Amy Spalding's new novel The Summer of Jordi Perez & the Best Burger in Los Angeles was exactly what I was craving. I'm serious! This book was adorable! And a lot of fun!

Abby Ives feels like her world is falling apart: At 17, she's never been kissed. Sure she's had crushes on girls in her school, but they've never liked her back the same way (Not that she's ever had the guts to approach any of said crushes, but that's beside the point). What's more, she feels as though she's a constant disappointment to her skinny, health-obsessed mother. 

The one bright spot in Abby's life is securing the coveted summer internship at Lemonberry, her favorite couture clothing shop. Not only will this mean free clothes and fodder for her fashion blog, but it will be excellent experience for the career Abby someday plans to have in the plus-size fashion industry. What's more, everyone knows this internship usually turns into an actual paying job come fall. 

Maybe things aren't so bad after all. But then...

Abby learns she'll be sharing the internship duties with fellow classmate and rumored bad girl Jordi Perez. Problem is there will only job offer at the end of the summer. To complicate things further, Abby begins crushing on Jordi. And by some miracle, Jordi likes her back! When the girls begin dating, Abby wonders how she can feel right about competing with someone she only wants to kiss. And what will happen to their relationship at the end of summer when one girl gets the job and the other doesn't?

Maybe Abby won't have to worry about any of that. Maybe fate will decide things for her.

The Summer of Jordi Perez & the Best Burger in Los Angeles read like the script for a teen rom-com from back in the day. Perhaps something directed by John Hughes of Sixteen Candles fame. Abby is the perfect atypical heroine: Insecure, sarcastic, quirky, and completely oblivious to how awesomely cool she really is. I adored her! And her relationship with Jordi is very sweet. Even side characters come alive within the pages: Jock Jax, who is not really as cool as he pretends to be and ends up being the best sort of friend... Maggie, the frazzled owner of Lemonberry... Abby's circle of supportive friends who are there for her no matter what... As with any good rom-com, the plot is predictable and the issues resolve themselves just in time for the Happily Ever After ending. 

I enjoyed every moment of this amazing book!

(Also, it really got me craving a hamburger! With lots and lots of pickles...)

--AJB

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Revenge of the Witch by Joseph Delaney

This book was a reread for me.  I read the first five books in this series when they first came out and I remember being absolutely riveted.  I wasn't wrong!  This book sucked me in and kept me there, sufficiently scared but also needing to know what was going to happen.

Tom is the seventh son of a seventh son and when he turns thirteen he is apprenticed to the spook.  A spook's job is to protect the county from the dark, from ghasts and boggarts and witches.  Tom is not necessarily excited about his future job.  He knows that the spook's life is lonely and dangerous but his mother, who seems to have the gift of sight, tells him that he is meant for this life.  Tom resolves to make the best of it.

However, he quickly gets himself involved with a girl who wears pointy shoes, something the spook has warned him against.  Now there are missing children in the village and a witch on the loose and the spook just happens to be out of town.  Can Tom handle it himself with just a couple of weeks worth of training?  What about when an angry witch gets too close to his family?

This book was exciting and scary.  However, it's definitely not for the faint of heart!

-RYQ

Saturday, April 7, 2018

A Girl Like That, by Tanaz Bhatena

A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhatena is definitely a story that I can't forget. This book tackles a lot of tough topics and before I go on I want to say these pages do contain bullying, rape, and physical abuse and the author handled them very well.

First of all, this is an incredible read. To me, it reads more like true events than a fictional story and I found it tough to get into and then impossible to put down. I think it was hard to start because there are a fair amount of characters to meet and multiple points of view. Also, this is set in Saudi Arabia. Their culture, language, and traditions are alien to me, so it took longer to immerse myself in the setting. Honestly, I don't think it is possible for me to appreciate the full impact of this story, and that's okay because it wasn't written for me. That did not stop me from enjoying and appreciating Bhatena for showing me a glimpse of this world so different from my own. And I still could relate to a lot of what the characters went through because a lot of what young adults face is applicable in all cultures.

Zarin, the main character is such a tough character. Her parents both died when she was very young and now she lives with an aunt and uncle who don't always appreciate her presence in their lives. Zarin is also a girl who steps outside the boundaries, breaks  through the caution tape and defies the rules. I really loved her fire. Every one of the characters is unlikable and some are downright despicable. Except perhaps Porus, who is just the sweetest friend and protector to Zarin. The muliple points of view into each character's life was really interesting. I didn't feel like I got to know any of them really well but I saw important moments that influenced them. I don't believe that Bhatena ever justified the antagonist behaviors of the characters but she did show us just how complex each life is behind closed doors.

At the start of the book and even in the synopsis we know that Zarin is dead and then the story begins in the past leading up to the accident. I knew what was coming, eventually, but I was not prepared for the journey I would go on with Zarin. Bhatena flipped my expectations over, surprised me, delighted me and broke my heart. *JK*

Friday, April 6, 2018

Breakfast Served Anytime, by Sarah Combs

Gloria (Glo) hopes a summer at "Geek Camp," hanging out with other artistic types and studying the Secrets of the Written Word, will help her get over a few things: Namely the recent death of her beloved grandmother and the pain of an unrequited crush on an older boy. She's also struggling with whether or not moving to New York City with her best friend is still something she wants to do with her life (She thought so once, but now she's not so sure...). 

Armed with only her biting wit and her GoGo's copy of To Kill A Mockingbird, Glo  embarks on an what is perhaps the biggest adventure of her life thus far. Here at the Morlan College Program for the Gifted and Talented, she discovers new friends, new perspectives, and maybe a new love interest. But she also discovers some things about herself and becoming the person she's meant to be.

Sarah Combs' novel Breakfast Served Anytime is one of those stories that make you fall into instant bookish love. The characters are quirky and likable and the setting is so vivid the reader feels as if she is there, discussing the Great American Novel underneath The Kissing Tree or hanging out at the Egg Drop Cafe ("Breakfast Served Anytime"). There are no Grand Adventures or Epic Quests, but there's real life...and maybe just a little bit of the best sort of magic.

Breakfast Served Anytime is not going to be exceptionally memorable. Won't be one of those books that lodges itself into my mind and heart and becomes something I return to again and again throughout life. In fact, a year from now, I may not remember it all that much. But I loved this book in the moment, and for me that is enough. 

A great choice for fans of Emma Mills and John Green.

--AJB

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Water Memory, by Valerie Vernay & Mathieu Reynes

When young Marion and her mother move into the old cottage by the sea (complete with a private beach!), Marion can't wait to explore. But there's more to her new home than meets the eye. There are these sinister carvings all over town and a creepy lighthouse keeper who seems to already have an instant vendetta against Marion. Research leads Marion to a local legend of a cursed family and a terrifying sea monster who demands a sacrifice every generation. And if that doesn't happen, well...the alternative is too terrible to talk about. With the time of sacrifice fast approaching, Marion knows something must be done to stop the creature's vengeance once and for all. But will she find the solution in time?

Valerie Vernay and Mathieu Reynes' graphic novel Water Memory is really the best sort of adventure story. Marion is my favorite sort of hero: Curious, brave, loyal, and willing to do anything to get to the bottom of the mystery at hand. Much like Hermione Granger from Harry Potter or Mikey from The Goonies. I loved the seaside setting, and the plot kept me on the edge of my seat until the very last page. I absolutely and thoroughly enjoyed this book. The only drawback was it wasn't long enough. 

Definitely recommended! --AJB

Monday, March 26, 2018

Finding Felicity, by Stacey Kade

Caroline never planned for the lie to go that far. But when her social butterfly mother pressed her for details about her new school, it just popped out. To hide the fact she had yet to make a single new friend, Caroline borrowed characters from her favorite retro TV show, "Felicity." She figured she'd make some actual friends eventually and wouldn't need the fictional ones anymore, but when that didn't happen she kept the lie going and growing...until it finally backfired the night of graduation, when her mom threw her a surprise party and (surprise) none of her "friends" showed up. 

Caroline confesses and is immediately sent into therapy. She worries that this will ruin her plans to go away to college, but her shrink thinks that going away and starting fresh just might be the best thing for Caroline. As long as she regularly checks in, of course.

Caroline is relieved. Because she has a very important reason for attending this particular college: It is the same school Liam, her high school crush, is attending. This is the boy she was too shy to speak to for the past three years. But she knows things will change once the two of them are away at school together. She knows they'll become a couple. Because she and Liam are meant to be together. Obviously. After all, that's what happened when Felicity followed her crush Ben to college. 

What Caroline doesn't get is this is real life, not a cheesy 90s TV drama. And things aren't going to work out the way she hopes. Unfortunately, she's going to have to learn this the hard way.

Stacey Kade's new novel Finding Felicity reads like a checklist for exactly what you SHOULDN'T do when going away to college. Underage partying, language, and other mature situations make this book a poor choice for younger teen readers. Caroline is the quintessential unlikable/unreliable narrator. There are some serious plot holes. And the ending wraps up far too neatly. (Also, it's doubtful today's teens would have heard of Felicity...even with the recent wave of 90s nostalgia. It's not among the better known of 90s TV shows. So many of the references will likely fly over the heads of today's young readers). 

And yet...the book has a certain charm. As a reader, I totally felt (sorry) for Caroline and hoped for things would turn out well for her. And this kept me reading through every single awkward moment and cringe-worthy situation. I was happy to witness Caroline's eventual transformation from shy and clueless teen to a somewhat better adjusted young lady (this time with real actual friends). I still didn't like her much, but her character did improve significantly in the final chapters. And that was refreshing.

Overall, Finding Felicity was a decent read. Not the most memorable book I've read this year,  but it kept me entertained.--AJB

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Thornhill, by Pam Smy

Ella Clarke is the new girl in town. She's lonely. Her mom is gone and her dad works long hours and is rarely home. More than anything, Ella wishes for a friend. And it looks as if her wish may come true. One day Ella spies what looks to be a girl her age hanging around the creepy abandoned mansion next door. Curious and hopeful, Ella investigates.

And what she finds is nothing like she expected.

Scattered about the yard of the house next door, resting against the old statues and half-hidden by vines, Ella finds hand-made dolls. Were they left for her by the mysterious girl? Maybe. Ella begins repairing and returning the dolls only to find more. 

Then one day Ella finds a key. 

And this key leads her to the attic of the house where she first glimpsed the girl.

And in that attic she finds the girl's diary.

And within the diary's pages is a decade's-old tale of horror and torment beyond imagining. 

If Ella isn't careful, history will repeat itself.

I picked up Pam Smy's odd novel Thornhill not really knowing what to expect other than it had a "mystery' sticker on the spine. I remember the book being compared to Wonderstruck (Selznick). And it's true the format is similar in that the dual perspectives alternate between text and pictures. But Thornhill is a far darker tale. And I wouldn't exactly call the ending "happy". Open-ended, yes. Cliffhanger even? Perhaps. But not happy (and I recall Wonderstruck ending on an upbeat). 

To say much more would spoil everything. You'll just have to read it for yourself. And I definitely recommend doing so. --AJB

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Wicked Deep, by Shea Ernshaw

Curses, hauntings, possession, revenge...true love (or teenage instacrush, anyway). And witches. Don't forget witches (Witches, if you don't already know, are kind of my thing...and not the Harry Potter sort either, although I will always have a soft spot for Harry. Original 7 books only, though). All this is the setup for the events that transpire in Shea Ernshaw's new novel, The Wicked Deep.  

Two hundred years ago, Hazel Swan had the nerve to fall in love with the wrong man, the son of the lighthouse keeper. Hazel and her sisters, Marguerite and Aurora, had arrived in town months earlier and had set up a perfume shop. Perfume, female business owners making it on their own...all this was scandalous to the uptight townspeople. And it didn't help that the sisters were unusually charming and beautiful, stirring the hearts of all the men in town, married and single, old and young. So naturally the sisters were accused of witchcraft and drowned in the bay, because back then that's what one did when encountering a (so called) witch.

Unfortunately, this placed a curse on the town. And every summer since, the sisters have returned, possessing the bodies of local girls for the purpose of leading boys into the harbor to drown.  This is how it has always been. 

As this year's Swan Season Celebration approaches, a stranger arrives in town, determined to investigate his brother's disappearance. And when the drownings begin, so does the witch hunt. But local girl Penny Talbot knows how to stop the curse. But does she really want to? Because the truth is far more complicated than she, or anyone, wants to let on.

When I first hears about The Wicked Deep months ago, I knew I had to read it. Early reviews compared it to a mashup of Hocus Pocus (my absolute FAV witch movie) and Practical Magic (which I also love). In reality, The Wicked Deep was neither of these, but but it still was a fun story, albeit predictable. In fact, I guessed the Big Twist more than 50 pages before it was revealed. More than any existing witchy story, book or movie, the tone of the story recalled the paperback horror/suspense novels I devoured by the dozen when I was a teen back in the 1990s (Cooney, Cusick, Stine, etc. All those authors). Everything about the book was decidedly old school, and that's mostly what kept me reading, what made me enjoy the book as much as I did. 

I would absolutely recommend it. Like, totally! --AJB


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Pashmina, by Nidhi Chanani

Pri, an Indian-American teen, is a talented artist and is mostly happy with her life. She enjoys classes with her favorite teacher and looks forward to outings with her Uncle Jatin, whom Pri sees as a father-like figure. But Pri is curious about India. She is curious about her family still living there. She is curious about her father, who disappeared before she was born. But Pri's mother refuses to speak about any of this, and this causes a lot of tension between mother and daughter.

Then Uncle Jatin announces he and Pri's aunt are going to have a baby. This will bring an end to how much time they spend together. Feeling hurt and angry and lost, Pri wishes the baby would go away. And when the baby gets sick, she blames herself. 

Then Pri discovers an old Pashmina in an old suitcase. And when she tries it on, she is magically transported to an idealistic version of India, all shining palaces and brightly-colored marketplaces. As the baby's health worsens and as the fights with her mother become more frequent, Pri begins to use this magic shawl to escape from her unhappy reality.  

When a twist of fate allows Pri the opportunity to visit her aunt and uncle in India, she discovers the reality doesn't match the visions she saw while wearing the Pashmina. But in learning the truth about India, Pri also learns the truth about her mother's past and about herself. 

Pashmina, a graphic novel by Nidhi Chanani, is a fun and accessible coming-of-age story about a teen trying to learn about herself while balancing two very different cultures. Pri is a likable and relatable character, and readers will sympathize with her as she tries to understand herself better by attempting to learn more about her Indian culture. For those unfamiliar with Indian words and concepts, a glossary is provided. But readers will likely not need this often, as most things are understood within the context of the story. 

Overall, Pashmina was a highly enjoyable story. I look forward to reading more of this author's books. --AJB

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Love, Life, and the List, by Kasie West

Love, Life, and the List is another fun read from Kasie West. It's full of sarcastic humor, challenges, friendship, and family. I love the easy to read pace and the go-getter character. The main character has many wants and she's doing everything she can think of, even stepping out of her comfort zone, to win the things she wants. There are setbacks, but she picks herself up and try again and it's very inspiring to read where everything is not perfect from the start.

This book is told in the first person point of view, following Abby Turner, a seventeen year old who loves art. She wants to display and sell her paintings at the museum, a fundraising the museum does once a year, but was told her paintings doesn't have heart and depth. She sets out to make a list of things for her to do to achieve heart and depth. Abby recruited her best friend, Cooper Wells to join in her challenges. One of the challenges is to face her fears and Cooper takes her out to the sand dunes for a quad ride. Another challenge is to try something new and they both auditioned for a play. Some challenges are harder to achieve than others, especially when her heart already set out for someone but that person doesn't reciprocate. This book also introduce agoraphobic, a condition where a person doesn't leave the house. Abby's mom stays in the house all the time while her dad is deployed to the Middle East. This story takes place in the summer so time is abundance for Abby to explore new things and take care of her family.

This book is very well written. I love books with characters that strive for what they want and don't give up when things don't go according to plans. The challenges that Abby face can  be relatable to many readers. Read this book if you are looking for motivation! Just read it for sarcastic humor because they are great! *JK*

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Underneath It All: A History of Women's Underwear, by Amber J. Keyser

It was a quiet morning at the Teen Desk, thanks to a freak blizzard, and I was in need of something to browse. Not wanting to commit to a full-length novel, I picked up Amber J. Keyser's Underneath it All: A History of Women's Underwear. This is a book a patron pointed out to me the other day, saying it looked really fun and she'd have to come back for it once her TBR list was a bit smaller.

Weighing in at just under 100 pages and written in a user-friendly style aimed at a younger (teen/tween) audience, Keyser's well-researched and interesting book chronicles the history of something most of us take for granted. Beginning in the 1300s when function was key to today's more fashionable (and comfortable! styles, undergarments have been as important to the clothing industry as are the latest runway trends--even though it wasn't always P.C. to talk about them. Mixed in with the facts are stories of iconic historical figures and how they pioneered changes in the undergarment industry. Everyone from Queen Elizabeth 1 to Madonna and Beyonce. 

And it's not just a fashion thing. The book discusses the issue that sweat shop labor that is used to mass produce some (not all) undergarments and how some companies are working to change that. It talks about how different cultures have different views on what is/is not acceptable when it comes to undergarments (and how society is striving to become more accepting of these differences). There is also a whole section about body image and how changing undergarment trends have both helped and hurt this growing concern. I also learned a few things while reading. For example: Did you know that there is a "smart" bra that can supposedly warn the wearer of early signs of possible breast cancer? No, me neither. But that's a pretty cool thing. 

Although I'm not typically a non-fiction reader, I found Underneath it All: A History of Women's Underwear to be a really interesting read. An added perk: I feel a bit smarter having read it. I love when that happens. Don't you?

 --AJB

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Across the Universe (DVD)

By now it's probably no secret that I'm a Beatles fan. I play a Paul McCartney style bass guitar and even named two of the characters in my quarterly Winston's World cartoon after members of the band. So when I discovered the Beatles-inspired musical Across the Universe (PG-13, 2007), of course I had to watch it! 

I was not disappointed. This film is amazing!

Set in the late 1960s, the story centers on Jude, a young man from Liverpool who travels to the U.S. to find his estranged father. Jude befriends college dropout Max and falls in love with Max's sister, Lucy. The trio travels to New York City and moves in with aspiring singer Sadie, her guitarist boyfriend Jo-Jo, and teen runaway Prudence. Then Max is drafted and Lucy, who already lost her high school boyfriend to the war, becomes involved with a group of anti-war extremists. Can love and friendship survive all this drama? 

This type of musical is always tricky. So much can go wrong. Especially when songs I like are involved. Although I actually liked Rock of Ages, I hated Moulin Rouge, and there are songs I no longer enjoy listening to because the film versions ruined things for me. But Across the Universe is perhaps the best-case scenario for this type of film. You can tell the writers had a deep respect for the music and took great care that the adaptions were exceptionally well-done. Some even surpass the original. For example, the film version of "Let it Be"...just thinking about it gives me chills. Even better, every single actor can sing! I should also mention that those familiar with Beatles music will find dozens of little "Easter Eggs" squirreled away throughout the film (which made watching even more fun).

Across the Universe captures the mood of the era, from the "peace and love" movement to anti-war protests to the war itself. It is a well-done bit of historical fiction in addition to being entertaining. The plot is engaging and the characters are the sort you will be rooting for. I'll also mention that the cast is very diverse, because I know that's an important issue these days. A word of caution: There are some mature situations and topics touched upon in the film, although nothing is exceptionally graphic. 

Overall, Across the Universe was a truly amazing cinematic experience. I would recommend it to fans of musicals and history alike. --AJB

Monday, February 19, 2018

Play Me Backwards, by Adam Selzer

Perhaps one of the most unconventional books I've read this year has been Adam Selzer's novel Play Me Backwards. Some of the concepts are strange, I'll give you that. But underneath all the freshman humor and cliche heavy metal references, there's a very awesome coming-of-age story that's got all the feels of a John Green book. I've got to admit it: I really enjoyed this one way more than I expected!

Back in middle school, Leon Harris was a proud member of the Gifted Pool along with all the other brains, geeks, and outspoken political advocates. He was ambitious. He was creative. He was going places. But that was then. That was before his girlfriend and love of his life, Anna B, broke his heart by moving to England and out of his life forever. 

By senior year, Leon has really let himself go. Nowadays he spends most of his free time in the back room of the Ice Cave (the less frequented of the town's two ice cream parlors) with all the other slackers, freaks, and metalheads. Leon has pretty much become slacker himself. In fact, he may not even graduate on time. Leon may not be living the dream, but he's content to skate through in a haze of don't-really-care.

Then Leon receives some earth-shattering news: Anna B is coming back to town for a visit. Maybe even moving back permanently!

There's no way Leon wants his old flame (whom he never got over) to see what a loser he's become. So he seeks out the unconventional wisdom of his friend and coworker, Stan, who may (or may not) possess dark mystical powers. And Stan is all too happy to help...for a price, of course. Mwa-hahaha!

Stan instructs Leon to complete several odd and seemingly unrelated tasks: Listen to the unabridged audiobook of Moby Dick, find the elusive white grape slushie, date a popular girl, join yearbook. Stan promises that by the time Leon has finished these missions, he will be a new man and worthy of Anna B once more. And never one to question Stan, who has been known to work miracles (it's, like, been documented), Leon begins his quest...

What follows is an often hilarious, often cringeworthy, and sometimes heartbreaking journey of personal growth and transformation that makes for a worthwhile read. Now Play Me Backward may not be for everyone as it does contain some mature humor and situations. But this one's perfect for fans of Going Bovine and other books with quirky, unusual stories. --AJB

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Jem and the Holograms: Infinite, by Kelly Thomas

Imagine, if you will, an alternate future world where having the latest technology means everything: The difference between comfort and struggle, hope and despair, life and death. Only the most elite can afford this tech. And these fortunate few live a seemingly-privileged life in a shining walled city ruled by a power-hungry dictator. The majority of the population, those who cannot afford the tech, scrounges to get by in the ruined world outside the Wall. There have been a few revolutionaries who have spoken out against the authority, but these people have been violently silenced. Even the original founders of the tech, which actually started out as a good thing & a way to make the world happy, have been made to "disappear". Lies and deception abound. With an expensive tech upgrade on the horizon that less than 1% of the city's residents will be able to afford, and with an unspeakably evil plan about to be unleashed, the fate of the world hangs in the balance.

It is here, in the ruined world outside the Wall, that a determined young man takes the ultimate risk: Travel to the past, find the tech founders, and prevent said tech from falling into the hands of the evil empire, thus restoring the world to the way it should be. There's only a minuscule chance he will succeed. Not only must he convince his understandably-suspicious targets to trust him, but he must also persuade sworn enemies to work together for a common cause. But our hero believes his quest is worth all the risks. Because failure would be catastrophic on more levels than he wants to think about. 

While this may sound like the first volume of the latest of many dystopian series, it's actually the next installment of Kelly Thompson's Jem and the Holograms graphic novel series. 

in Jem and the Holograms: Infinite, readers explore a reality where Synergy's holograms have fallen into the hands of Eric Raymond. Guided by Techrat (or, more accurately, an alternate reality Techrat), the Holograms and the Misfits travel to an alternate earth where they must band together to undo the evil created by hologram technology. 

Although I am a huge fan of this series, Infinite was probably my least favorite (Which is not to say I didn't like it. I did. It was just a bit too Hunger Games-esque for my taste). It made for an interesting read, though. Just a departure from the normal tone of the series. --AJB

Friday, February 16, 2018

Geostorm (DVD)

Craving a really awesome action movie, I picked up Geostorm. From the synopsis on the back of the case, it sounded like it would be a truly EPIC cinematic experience. Extreme special effects, lots and LOTS of action, and a creepy plot that could (maybe) totally happen...especially since Snowpocalypse was raging just outside.

The reality was sub-par acting, seemingly-important plot points that were brought up and then dropped, and special effects that were so gratuitous they cycled back to B-movie cheesy. We're talking Mystery Science Theater laughable, people (the wall of tornadoes...lol). It almost felt like the CGI team was bored and wanted to make the film as ridiculous as possible. Also, my Scooby Senses totally picked out the villain about 15 minutes into the film. So predictable.

Plus, there was something oddly familiar about the overall plot. Both hubby and I picked up on it. The post-movie conversation went something like this:

"So...remember that movie from the 90s with the asteroid and the actress from Lord of the Rings?" 

"Where they had to land rockets on the asteroid and blow it up?"

"Yeah...that one."

"Armageddon, I think... Yeah, Armageddon."

"Well... This was that movie. They changed a few minor things, but it was totally that movie!"

Pause.

"You're right. It was!"

About the only positive aspect of Geostorm was laughing about it together. And that made the movie kind of awesome, despite its overall awfulness. Hubby and I even concocted our own wishful thinking/hypothetical Mythbusters episode based on the movie: Driving on Lava (can you drive a smart car over a field of molten pavement without your tires melting?), Explosive Lightning (can a single lightning bolt completely annihilate a football stadium-sized building?), High-Speed Backward Car Chase, Outrunning a Tidal Wave--On Foot!... and so on. Much fun came out of watching this film. And because of that, I know I'll remember it for a long time. 

BONUS: The dog actually survives! So yay :)

If you want a movie that's completely over-the-top, that's so bad it's actually good, check out Geostorm. It's absolutely worth seeing if only for having a good (unintentional) chuckle. I recommend it! 

--AJB

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

As You Wish, by Chelsea Sedoti

At age 18, did YOU know what you wanted (what you really, really wanted)? I mean, honestly. Yeah...me neither. Which is why so many residents of the desert town of Madison are living lives of regret, trying (and mostly failing) to cope with the repercussions of teenage spontaneity.

This is because in Madison, which is no more than a blip on most maps (if it's on there at all), harbors a secret. The younger generations believe it is a wonderful, magical secret. The adults, however, know better. In Madison, there exists a cave that grants everyone exactly ONE wish on their 18th birthday. Most people wish for money or fame or other frivolous things (you know, the usual suspects). But the catch is this: These wishes aren't what they seem. And, more often than not, they bring dire consequences. Maybe not right away, but sooner than later... 

That's the funny thing about wishes. You have to be careful with them.

This is why Eldon, soon to be 18, is feeling quite a bit of stress over his impending situation. He's been fielding quite a bit of pressure from his family and friends about what to wish for. What they think he should wish for, that is.  He's been weighing his options. And he's determined to make his wish count. Then, with his birthday only a day away, Eldon comes to the conclusion that there is only ONE thing to wish for. The perfect wish.

No spoilers, though.

For a book that has absolutely nothing to do with The Princess Bride (as the title may imply), Chelsea Sedoti's new novel As You Wish is really pretty mind blowing. It deals with the very essence of human nature and just how far people will go to get what they want (scary!). This is one I'll be thinking about for a while...

Which begs the question:

If YOU (yes, YOU) could wish for anything, what would it be?

Think carefully before you answer.

--AJB

The Prince and the Dressmaker, by Jen Wang

Author/artist Jen Wang's newly released graphic novel, The Prince and the Dressmaker, has been on my TBR radar for some time. When I saw it on the New Books Shelf today, I grabbed it up...and read it in one sitting. The book was everything I hoped and more: A unique plot, beautiful illustrations, a cast of likable characters readers can really root for, and, perhaps most important, a Happily Ever After sort of ending (although not really by traditional standards). The Prince and the Dressmaker is a lovely, fairytale-like story about being yourself and finding others who accept you just as you are--quirks and all. 

The Prince and the Dressmaker centers on the relationship between Prince Sebastian and his best friend and clothing designer, Frances. This may sound like a setup for a Disney-like romance, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, there really isn't much romance at all. One kiss...but even that's really more of a friend thing. 

Prince Sebastian of Brussels in Paris at his parents' demand. It is here the king and queen hope their son finds a suitable bride. After all, Paris is the "city of love". Instead Sebastian finds an outlet for his secret passion: Donning gorgeous gowns and exploring the city's night life as Lady Crystallia. The only one who knows this secret is Frances, the exceptionally talented young lady who designs Crystallia's dresses. The two teens have a fantastic time. At first. Before long, though, Frances' innovative designs catch the eye of the notables of the city's fashion industry. People who could make her career really take off. And thus comes the dilemma. By realizing her dreams, Frances would risk exposing Sebastian's secret. Which wouldn't be such a big deal of he wasn't the Prince and the sole heir to the throne. 

What happens next? Sorry...no spoilers. But don't worry. Everything works out  in the end (I tell you this because you look worried).

The Prince and the Dressmaker is one the the best things I've read so far this month. It's a sweet, fun story with all the feels and more.  I adored everything about this story, from the characters to the plot to the artwork. Everything! This book was a delight, and I would absolutely recommend it! 

--AJB

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Forgotten Book, by Mechthild Gläser

Somehow I was interested in reading a fantasy book and this book quickly grabbed my attention. The Forgotten Book was engaging with mysteries that paced the story. From the pages of the magical  book we glimpse its past, present and future. All of which, pieced together, form a story of its own. Every journal entry, despite their jumping timelines, made me feel like I was that much close to getting to the truth. There was no telling what was next but I knew it would be good. 

I loved the originality of the story. The magical book has such a rich history. Learning about its origin and what events it has made true since then was both scary and exciting. The unpredictable nature of the magic made anticipation high. It was super fun to see how the book interpreted the words on its pages. I was flipping fast to see what would come next.

I really liked the cast of characters. Emma was smart and persistent but also a little careless at times. Her friends made up for it - Charlotte was cautious while Hannah was just plain hilarious. There's a small bit of romance which felt very abrupt at first (a confession that came out of nowhere) but later grew on me. In many ways Darcy was misunderstood so it was extra satisfying to see the two work out their differences and get together.

All in all, The Forgotten Book was a delightful read. The story was original, the mysteries held me rapt and the ending was beautifully wrapped up. So if you like storybook adventures, definitely give author Mechthild Glaser's book a go! *JK*

Friday, February 9, 2018

Tina's Mouth: An Existential comic Diary by Keshni Kashyap

This week, in a further attempt to catch up my TBR, I read Tin’as Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary.  I loved it.  I simply loved it.  This was the first time in a long time that I have read a whole book, even a comic, in a day.  It was hard to put down, even when I planned on putting it down.
Tina is a fifteen year old at Yarborough Academy.  For her English Honors class final project, she is keeping an existentialist diary which she chooses to write to Sartre.  The idea is that she will explore philosophical questions and her life and her teacher will mail the diary back to her in three years.  Tina sets to work thinking about who she is and learning how to be.
But, like any fifteen year old, she is going to face a lot of changes in the coming year.  It all starts when her best friend Alex, an ex-Mormon whose parents recently divorced, starts wearing tight clothes, gets a boyfriend, and dumps Tina for a whole new group of friends.  Tina suddenly finds herself pretty much completely alone at school.  She begins spending time on her “bench of existential solitude” but before long she finds herself branching out and filling up her life.
Friend fights.  Loneliness.  Family drama.  First love.  School plays.  Tina is about to learn that she is a lot more than she previously thought.
As I said, I loved this book.  I loved it enough that I wrote down a few quotes from it just to keep in mind.  Tina’s feelings were very accurate to my own past experiences and I felt them achingly along with her.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Belles, by Dhonielle Clayton

I've heard a lot of buzz surrounding Dhonielle Clayton's new novel, The Belles. And although I'm not a big fan of the dystopian genre, the book's pretty cover made it hard to pass up. And at least it wasn't one of those "OMG! The World is Ending" kind of dystopians. So I gave it a read. And although it didn't match the hype for me, it was entertaining enough for me to keep going. 

Imagine being able to magically transform the color of your skin, the texture of your hair, and pretty much everything else about your appearance that makes you a unique individual. Imagine being able to change all that at whim. Whenever you want. And no, I'm not talking about popping over to Walgreen's and picking up a box of hair dye, a tube of bronzer, and a palate of eye shadow from Cover Girl's spring line. Although "beauty" would be so much more affordable to the characters in this book if this were an option. Guess they don't have Walgreen's in the Kingdom of Orleans. Pity. Because that would be an excellent way to cheat the system.

In the Kingdom of Orleans, all people are born devoid of color (are they albinos? not sure.). And the only way they can become "beautiful" is to be worked on by The Belles, a magical race who can transform anything and anyone, no matter how hideous, into something gorgeous. At a cost, of course. At this rate, only the most elite can afford to be pretty. 

The story centers on Camellia, one particular Belle who hopes to become the Belle who works on keeping the royal family looking their best. This is obviously a huge honor, and only the best of the best are chosen for this duty. The competition is stiff and the reward promises to be great. But much like those reality shows about wannabe supermodels and bachelorettes, being the Next Top Belle isn't all roses and gourmet chocolate. Plus there are the cat fights, pettiness, tears from those not chosen, and warnings about being careful what you wish for. Obviously you should always be careful what you wish for. Especially in these stories.

Although this whole book read like the script for a reality TV show, and although it was just as predictable, it was an interesting commentary about beauty and beauty's role in the world. About how some people will pay any price, endure any pain, in order to meet society's standards of what is "beautiful." 

Fans of Kiera Cass' Selection series will enjoy this one. --AJB

Monday, February 5, 2018

Despicable Me 3

Despicable Me 3 picks up shortly after the events of Despicable Me 2. Gru and Lucy are settling into married life, and Lucy is (very awkwardly) trying to get used to her role as mother to Gru's three adopted daughters. The Minions are...well, The Minions. 

But just when life seems just about perfect, Gru gets fired from the Anti-Villain League (AVL) when he fails to bring in the notorious child star-turned mullet-headed villain, Balthazar Bratt. This whole scene causes quite a bit of tension in the former villain's household. And more drama is on the way when Gru learns he has a long-lost twin brother, Dru. And Dru wants nothing more than to become as great a villain as Gru was back in the day. The only problem is Gru is reformed. And Dru is just plain awful at being bad.

Hoping to make everything right with his family and the AVL, Gru enlists Dru to help him bring in Bratt. Only Dru thinks they're on an evil villain mission. With all the lies, drama, and impossibly crazy schemes, it's not a spoiler to say this probably won't end well.

Despicable Me 3 wasn't as good as the first or even the second Despicable Me movies. There was too much going on, for one thing. And it just didn't have the heart of the previous films. Almost all the feels that should have been there were sacrificed for gross humor and overdone jokes. Still, the movie had its moments. My particular favorite scene was when Agnes goes Unicorn Hunting. The Minions also got their musical moment in the spotlight. The Minions make everything better.

Overall: A, entertaining film, but not nearly as awesome as previous ones in the series. 

--AJB

It Should Have Been You, by Lynn Slaughter

Having just re-read We Were Liars (an excellent twisty mystery by E. Lockhart), I was in the mood for something with equal page-turning potential. So I picked up Lynn Slaughter's new novel, It Should Have Been You. And I was not disappointed. This thrilling story was everything I hoped. 

Clara, a shy teen who moonlights as the advice columnist for her school's paper, has not been having a good semester. Her popular twin sister Moura was mysteriously murdered only months earlier. And many people suspect Clara did it--including her classmates and the detective in charge of investigating the case. And maybe she did. After all, Clara was supposedly the only one home when Moura met her untimely demise. Nothing can be proven, though. And Clara insists on her own innocence.

Then Clara begins receiving threatening emails, hinting that the wrong twin was killed and that Clara could be next. Are these cryptic messages from the killer himself (or herself)? Or are they simply a sick joke from one of the many classmates who blames Clara for Moura's death? When not even the local authorities will take the threats seriously, Clara takes the mystery into her own hands. But is she prepared for what she'll discover?

It Should Have Been You is one of those books that hooks you from page one and keeps you up reading long past bedtime. Because you HAVE to find out what happens! (Who needs sleep, right?). If you're looking for an awesome mystery with lots of twists and turns and a surprise ending, this is the book for you! --AJB

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Throwback Thursday (sort of): Anne of Green Gables: A Graphic Novel, adapted by Mariah Marsden, illus. Brenna Thummler

I admit it. I've never really been all that inspired to read the L.M. Montgomery's classic Anne of Green Gables series (although I did enjoy her much lesser-known stand alone novelThe Blue Castle). As a child I watched the PBS adaption of Anne, though. I remember being entertained by it, but don't recall much more than the scene where Anne falls off the roof. I kind of forgot the series existed except in the periphery of my bookish awareness. There are just too many other books out there for me to pick up on a chick-lit series that's almost 100 years old. Then Netflix rebooted the series and, with it, came a renewed interest in the story.

Author/illustrator team of Mariah Marsden and Brenna Thummler even created a graphic novel adaption of the first Green Gables book. Curious and in need of something to read, I picked it up. It was a quick read. A fun read. Like any good graphic novel, there was very little dialogue and the illustrations picked up most of the slack of telling the story. And seemed to do an excellent job of doing so. And it was a cute story. Very quaint. And I remembered more from the PBS series than I thought. 

Except...

I may catch some flack for saying so, but I really didn't like Anne's character. She was rude, pushy, annoying, and would do anything to get her way/get out of trouble. She often lied. She was overly dramatic, beyond typical teenage hormones. She's basically the quintessential Manic Pixie Dream Girl, a particularly irritating (to me) trope that was popular a few years ago thanks to authors like John Green. True, Anne did begin to redeem herself, but not until the last few pages. Perhaps I would feel differently had I read the book rather than base my impression on the graphic... Or perhaps if I had encountered the story as a tween rather than as an adult... Maybe I would have liked Anne better. Maybe not. I couldn't tell you.

Overall, though, the graphic adaption of Anne of Green Gables was a worthy one. I think fans of the series will be pleased. --AJB

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women


I picked this up one day hoping it would be a quick read, but at the end I wanted more. #NotYourPrincess is full of a wide variety of moving artwork, poetry, essays, short stories, and meaningful quotes from modern Native American women who are sharing their stories. The pieces in these collected works strongly speak volumes about the damage done by abuse and stereotyping. Although it is heavily emotional, this book is beautiful, empowering, and well worth the read if you are ready for it. This book is a quick read that will make your world bigger. Like I stated, I just wanted there to be more. 


I would especially recommend this to any older teen that is interested in poetry or one who is willing to allow themselves to learn more of the challenges and hardships of Native American women. -MC


I will also caution that there was some distressing physical and sexual abuse survivor stories in this book and that it might be better suited for a more mature teen audience. 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Throwback Thursday: Jumanji - DVD (1995)

I somehow missed the original Jumanji movie (based on a 1981 children's book by Chris Van Allsburg) when it hit theaters in 1995. 

Not surprising, considering... I was transitioning out of high school that year and, at the time, a kids' movie about jungle animals that somehow come out of a board game wasn't exactly my thing. Plus, between working, taking classes, and preparing to move across the state to attend college, I didn't have a lot of time for fun stuff. That whole year was kind of a blur...

But when the reboot hit theaters earlier this year, you bet I watched it...in all its big screen, surround sound glory. My hubby and I are big fans of both Jack Black and The Rock, so a movie featuring both actors had to be absolutely fantastic. We were right. It was. And more!

But this got us curious about the original film. I'd never seen it and my husband, being a few years younger, didn't remember much about it except for an elephant crushing a car with a kid inside (spoiler: the kid survived. of course he did). So we checked it out of the library and were pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed it! Aside from being a bit dated, we found it to be creative, funny, and just a lot of fun.

The movie begins with two siblings who move to an old house that is rumored to be haunted. While exploring, they discover a jungle-themed board game. They begin playing and, in doing so, begin releasing jungle animals (monkeys and elephants and giant mosquitoes--oh my!). Among the creatures released is Alan Parrish, who has been trapped in the game for nearly 30 years. The three of them, along with Alan's childhood friend, must finish the game in order to return their town and their lives to the way things should be. 

Although I liked the reboot much better (we both did, actually), the original Jumanji was still exceptionally enjoyable. Definitely recommended! -- AJB


p.s. Just an observation: Change a few minor plot details and this would make an excellent horror movie. A haunted board game that has a mind of its own and tries to kill its players... It's very The Ring in a way.